Some Luzerne County municipalities will see their state subsidies for road and bridge maintenance and repair significantly boosted this year.
All 67 municipalities will see increases over 2013 funding, ranging from a low of 7.7 percent more in Bear Creek Village, New Columbus Borough and Fairmount Township to a high of 14.3 percent more in Pittston Township.
The largest monetary increases will be seen in the cities of Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton, with Wilkes-Barre seeing its share go up $59,384 to $823,163, and Hazleton getting $41,172 more this year for a 2014 total of $571,670. The smallest increase dollar-wise — $115 — goes to tiny Jeddo borough.
The increase in the local share of the gasoline tax revenue that the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue will distribute on March 3 to all Luzerne County municipalities totals $599,289.
Pittston Township Manager John Bonita said he suspects the township received such a relatively high percentage increase because the municipality took over several roads in the CenterPoint Commerce & Trade Park.
The gas tax revenue allocations are annual payments to municipalities to help pay for highway and bridge-related expenses such as snow removal and road repaving. There are 119,847 miles public roads in Pennsylvania, with 77,889 of those miles owned by municipalities and eligible for subsidies. The formula for payments is based on a municipality’s population and miles of locally owned roads.
Bonita said, however, that the bulk of the township’s increase, which equates to $12,692, came from the “special tax enacted by the legislature” in November.
According to a news release from the office of Gov. Tom Corbett announcing the distributions, the state’s new transportation plan will allow PennDOT to distribute $345 million in payments to certified municipalities statewide on March 3 as their share of the state gasoline tax revenues.
The allocation is $25.1 million more than the 2013 figure, roughly an 8 percent increase.
“This investment helps our towns meet the tough challenge of maintaining municipality-owned roads and bridges,” Corbett said. “Because of the new transportation plan that I signed into law, Pennsylvania will be able to increase these resources in coming years, which could provide some relief to local taxpayers from these costs.”
Under Act 89, the new transportation plan Corbett signed in November, liquid fuels reimbursements will increase by roughly $220 million over the next five years.
Pennsylvania’s first major transportation bill in six years increases a tax on gasoline at the wholesale level, which could boost prices at the pump by a quarter or more by the time it is fully implemented in five years.
It also imposes a range of higher fees and fines collected by PennDOT, and would link future increases to the rate of inflation. Corbett vowed not to raise taxes, including motorist fees, during his campaign for the governorship, but has said that he did not agree that the transportation bill broke those promises.
Kingston Township Manager Kathy Sebastian said the township saw its 8.3-percent hike in state subsidy partly because of the adoption of roadways in the Slocum Estates subdivision last year.
Sebastian said the township has spent about $30,000 on road salt so far this year. And if the township’s $15,362 subsidy isn’t needed to cover road salt purchases that exceed the $50,000 she budgeted for the expense, “it will definitely for toward paving projects for the summer,” Sebastian said.
Mayor Joe Yannuzzi said the additional $41,172 coming to Hazleton is “not a lot of money, but it’s enough to do some major needed repairs.”
But, he said, Hazleton residents shouldn’t expect to see any more summer road work than usual.
“The way the costs have been increasing, it will help us to maintain what we’ve been doing,” Yannuzzi said, adding that he’ll devise a road repair plan in the spring.
“We’ll do an evaluation, see how much money we have, prioritize the jobs and then go from there. It won’t be hard to put a list together,” Yannuzzi said. “Accomplishing the list will be tough.”